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Episode 2 Failure of Imagination: Representations of Race in Media and Fandom – Part 2

This is Part Two of the episode. Go here to listen to/read Part One.

Episode Resources:

For this episode, we looked at the following texts:

Fan podcast – Episode 21 of The Gayly Prophet “Clearly, Hermione is Black: An Interview with Prerna Abbi-Scanlon and Tahirah Green” 

Fan podcast – Episode 165 of Black Girl Nerds “Racebending and Whitewashing in Media”

Fan podcast – Episode 18 of Woke Doctor Who “Sweep Your Own Yard”

Doctor Who episode “Rosa”

 

Episode Transcript: 

This is a clean transcript of the episode. If you would prefer the original, unedited version, please let me know!

[Intro music]

Welcome to Marginally Fannish, a show where we aim an intersectional lens at some of our favourite media and their fandoms.

[Intro music]

You’re listening to the second part of our episode on race and representation. As three Indian fangirls of mostly Western media (but also Bollywood!), we have a LOT of thoughts about this episode’s theme. We didn’t want to stop talking, which is why we divided this episode into two parts.

In this part, we talk about how incredibly amazing the internet, social media, and fandom have been in helping us decolonise our minds by allowing us access to diverse experiences and perspectives we otherwise wouldn’t have encountered. We chat about whitewashing media and religion both in India and the West. Then we discuss racebending both in fandom and in canon. We wonder whether the magical world was involved in the British Muggle world domination project. We geek out about exciting Doctor Who developments (spoiler alert for those who aren’t caught up with episode 5 of the 12th series). We discuss what representation means to us as fans who aren’t white. We express our love for an increasingly diverse canon in different kinds of media, but we also stress the importance of authentic, nuanced, and respectful portrayals of diversity. We discuss what our vision about the future in science fiction and alternative worlds in fantasy says about our attitudes towards marginalised groups around us in the real world. We end Part Two with our suggestions for how Hogwarts can (and should!) decolonise its curriculum.

Happy listening!

[Intro music]

Parinita: So this brings me to a section that is really interesting just because of the impact it has on popular culture at large. Which is whitewashing and racebending. So we listened to a podcast episode, a Black Girl Nerds episode called “Racebending and Whitewashing in Media”. Had you guys come across the term whitewashing before?

Aparna: Yes. Whitewashing is where a retelling of a story that wouldn’t necessarily have white people, when it is told to a larger audience, happens to have only white people. Or like a story that does not necessarily need to be told by white people or shouldn’t be, is being told in a very – completely negating the experiences of more marginalised voices. And the most striking example of it, which they mentioned in the podcast, is well is that of Jesus.

Parinita: Yeah [laughs]

Aparna: [laughs] They listed out all the actors who’d played Jesus and it was all white people, one after the other. It was quite funny.

Parinita: But I never even thought of Jesus as anybody except not white. Like I went to a Catholic school in India and all the portraits of Mother Mary and Jesus and you know all the saints and everything – all of them were white. And it’s only recently that, just through conversations online, again because the internet is the most fantastic educational resource, it was like, yeah he was – first of all, he was Jewish because he literally started the religion.

Aparna: Yeah.

Parinita: And he was Middle Eastern so he would be brown.

Sanjana: Yeah.

Parinita: And this is just such a disruptive notion to just what we think of as Jesus. And then it starts making you think what other aspects of history or mythology have been whitewashed, you know?

Aparna: Exactly!

Sanjana: But see if you’re basing it on Indian things, then everything like supreme is white only for us.

Parinita: [laughs] That’s true. Fair and Lovely everywhere.

Sanjana: Yeah, everywhere. Like we are having a constant battle by trying to tell colourists who are colouring our comics, to tell them that you know this guy is from this region. He would look not this white. And they say, “But hero, sir. Hero? Hero, madam.” Because the hero can just not be anything else but white.

Parinita: But I mean it’s not just the West though that has a hold on whitewashing their gods. We also have like plenty of whitewashing of our Hindu gods and goddesses.

Sanjana: Yeah, yeah. All our gods have been portrayed like whatever live-action stuff has happened, is all like by these white-looking men. Whereas Krishna literally means dark.

Parinita: [laughs]

Sanjana: Like it’s as dark as the dark clouds. Like it means dark.

Aparna: But we don’t make them dark, we make them blue.

Sanjana: Yeah. Okay rain clouds are not dark clouds, they’re blue clouds.

Parinita: [laughs]

Aparna: We can’t have a dark-skinned person.

Parinita: Exactly! Like what would that mean having a dark person like – only upper caste. How can we have a non-upper caste actor –

Aparna: We’ll invent a new skin colour for them.

Parinita: [laughs] Yeah like blue, natural skin colour in –

Aparna: Asphyxiation.

Parinita: Yeah!

Sanjana: [laughs]

Parinita: And also like Ranveer Sharma in Gully Boy like sorry to move from mytho – oh from religion and mythology to Bollywood.

Sanjana: Singh! Ranveer Singh!

Parinita: Hmm? Ranveer Singh! Oh Shar – who’s Ranveer Sharma? I don’t –

Aparna: There is no such person.

Parinita: I’m sure there is.

Aparna: Unless there’s a different Bollywood in Leeds.

Parinita: [laughs] Ranveer Sharma, if you’re listening to this, please prove everybody else wrong. And you exist. I believe in you.

Aparna: [laughs]

Parinita: So Ranveer Singh in Gully Boy, he had his skin darkened because he was playing someone who was Muslim and also from the slums in Mumbai. So from Dharavi. So of course why wouldn’t you get an actor from the slums or from a … lower … caste background? I don’t like saying lower. But you know non-upper. This is like the whole non-white situation again like –

Aparna: [laughs]

Parinita: Positioning it against yeah I don’t know we need to come up with a word. Maybe that could be our task for next episode. But yeah just from a non-dominant religion and caste. And why would you do that? We should just darken –

Movie poster of Gully Boy

Sanjana: But the same thing happened with the Mary Kom movie as well, now that we’re talking about Bollywood. They cast Priyanka Chopra in it and made her look a little bit like she was from –

Aparna: North Eastern.

Sanjana: The North East. But why not find – there is a whole cinema happening there. There are a whole bunch of actors available.

Parinita: And they’re so underrepresented in our –

Sanjana: Yeah!

Parinita: Mainstream Indian media and culture.

Sanjana: You had a chance to represent them! You had a chance!

Photo of Priyanka Chopra on the left and Mary Kom on the right

Priyanka Chopra and Mary Kom. Image courtesy The Economic Times

Parinita: Yeah but let’s just get Priyanka Chopra. Maybe she’ll get her husband to watch it as well and maybe it’ll get popular in Hollywood.

Sanjana: Oh tabhi she didn’t have husband at that time haan.

Parinita: Oh didn’t? Maybe they were dating. I don’t know her life. I’m not obsessed with Priyanka Chopra like you Sana! [laughs]

Aparna: Sana is trying to situate you correctly –

Sanjana: I’m situating you correctly –

Aparna: On Priyanka Chopra’s life.

Parinita: I mean Sana is the resident Priyanka Chopra fangirl.

Sanjana: No! I don’t want to say that. I’ve disliked them greatly after like … anyway –

Aparna: Oh!

Sanjana: That’s a wholly different – yeah, yeah.

Aparna: No, no say it.

Sanjana: No, I can’t.

Aparna: After she turned out to be a Modi supporter.

Sanjana: [laughs] Yeah.

Parinita: So another example of whitewashing that is very close to our hearts is … even though it technically is a cartoon. So Avatar: The Last Airbender, it’s very Asian! Like it’s the setting, even though it’s made up, it’s very Buddhist, Eastern-Asian and you know like it’s very –

Sanjana: Absolutely. Yeah, yeah. Without a doubt.

Parinita: But, of course, when Mr. M. Night Shyamalan decided to make a live-action remake, which Sana has warned both Paru and me against watching.

Aparna: [laughs]

Parinita: Because as much as we love the TV show, she wants to protect us from the terribleness that was the movie. But he betrayed desi people and Asian people everywhere and he just cast everyone as white. Except Zuko who is Dev Patel. But otherwise everyone else is white. So that was where the term racebending came from. Because you know airbending, waterbending – benders. And that’s where racebending came from. So it started very negatively but –

Avatar: The Last Airbender characters in the movies versus the TV show. Image courtesy Ashworth’s Film Reviews

Sanjana: I love the word and the origin.

Parinita: Racebending? Yeah. Like I love it I mean if it was negative, I probably wouldn’t have liked it as much. But why I like it is because fandom is such a creative, innovative force that they decided to make it an empowering term.

Sanjana: Yeah.

Parinita: And they have responded to texts that are canonically very white. And they’ve racebent. So like black Hermione, for example, in Harry Potter

Sanjana: Yeah.

Parinita: A huge swathe of the fandom considers Hermione as black and also considers Harry as South Asian.

Fan art of Indian Harry Potter, black Hermione Granger, and Ron Weasley

Racebending Harry and Hermione in fan art. Image courtesy Inverse

Aparna: Yeah!

Parinita: Like Harry is a desi guy because James Potter I believe is supposed to be Indian, so Harry would be like a mixed-race kid.

Sanjana: Oooh!

Parinita: And again, that would be such an exciting sort of – then you’re thinking of things like why is James Potter Indian and like you know imperialism and … was there imperialism in the wizarding world? Wizarding is also a very gendered term. But anyway. Was there imperialism in the magical world that we –

Sanjana: Yeah.

Aparna: I mean wizarding world exists parallel to our own, no?

Sanjana: Yeah.

Parinita: But do you think they were involved in colonising India? In colonising Africa?

Aparna: For sure!

Parinita: The rest of the world?

Sanjana: Unfortunately.

Aparna: Without a doubt.

Parinita: Where did Parvati and Padma’s parents come from? Like why are they in the UK? It would be very interesting to –

Sanjana: Many people went there to study and all.

Parinita: Sure.

Sanjana: Some people stayed there. Haan that only.

Parinita: Yeah, yeah. There’s no other reason. We like chicken tikka masala, sure.

[Aparna and Sanjana laugh]

Sanjana: No but also like you’re saying, they’ve taken it and made it like a positive thing. Like the episode that you’re mentioning also mentioned like Nick Fury being cast as black. Whereas the comics had him as a white male character.

Parinita: Oh really?

Sanjana: Yeah.

Image of Nick Fury from the comics and from the movies

Nick Fury in the comics versus the movies. Image courtesy Reddit

Parinita: Another thing. So the new exciting Doctor who we know almost nothing about.

Sanjana: Yes!

Parinita: So one of the fan theories was – because she’s this really mysterious Doctor right? So one of the fan theories is that she might pre-date the Doctor – the first Doctor that we know of which was the 1960s Doctor whose name I don’t know. And there was some trauma that happened that made her lose her memories. And that’s why Jodie doesn’t remember her. Nobody has remembered this previous incarnation. So there might be this whole cycle of Doctors that we don’t know about. So it’s almost like racebending canon in a way. Like which has been such a –

Aparna: Haan.

Parinita: White, male … all the Doctors have been white and men and now there’s a woman. One sole woman that we have and now we have another woman and we don’t know what’s happening.

Aparna: Yeah.

Parinita: But I love this potential like all these possibilities that could exist.

Aparna: Exactly! And it’s sort of cooler that it pre-dates all of these other Doctors because that means like before any of them existed, there was this one.

Photo of the two female Doctors - Jodie Whittaker and Jo Martin

The Doctor and Doctor Ruth image courtesy The Metro

Parinita: Absolutely. And also like she is older, she’s not as young as the other Doctors. I mean Peter Capaldi was pretty old but she like usually you think of women and there’ll be like a young woman like most of the companions were young women.

Aparna: Yeah, of course.

Parinita: And she’s older, she’s black, she’s a woman. Even though like you know I’m not black, I was so excited to see her! I was like oh my god

Sanjana: Yeah.

Parinita: Representation! We need so little!

Aparna: Yeah exactly.

Parinita: Like we’ve been so starved of representation that –

Aparna: I know!

Parinita: Even the tiniest things make us so happy.

Aparna: Like when the – the reveal of Jodie Whitaker as the Doctor happened, there was this video that I kept encountering of this little girl whose mother was filming her watching the reveal. And she just burst into tears because she was so happy. “There’s going to be a girl Doctor!” she kept yelling. And it was just the most adorable thing.

Parinita: I mean watching Wonder Woman for me like that made me cry so much.

Aparna: Yeah!

Sanjana: Yeah!

Parinita: Just because it was so not male gazey and it was very much like a woman’s –

Sanjana: Right.

Parinita: Movie made for – it just – we need so little. I mean we want more, but we need so little –

Aparna: [laughs]

Parinita: To be happy and even – like I was telling you, Paru, this is what men feel like all the time!

Aparna: [laughs]

Sanjana: Oh my god.

Parinita: Feel represented and – so I’m glad that canon is becoming more diverse.

Sanjana: No, the other day, I’m telling you, this is like a continuous thing of trying to tell the men around me even in the family, is that when we’re watching TV shows, we made it a point to watch newer things. Like wherever something off discussion happens, I these days pause it and say, “This is how women feel all the time.”

Parinita: [laughs]

Sanjana: “Do you understand your male privilege now?” And then I un-pause and continue watching.

Aparna: [laughs] Before we move on from racebending, I want to give a shout-out to Hamilton which is my favourite racebending thing ever.

Sanjana: Oh my god yes!

Parinita: It’s true! I didn’t even think about that.

Aparna: Best example of all these old white people who have made America and –

Sanjana: Yeah! Washington.

Aparna: And they’re all being played by all these really kickass people, it’s the best.

Parinita: Yeah – what does he call it? The America of yesterday being portrayed by the America of today? Something like that?

Sanjana: Yeah.

Gif from the musical Hamilton. Text says: Immigrants, we get the job done.

Parinita: That is my favourite racebending text as well. And that’s like proper canon now.

Aparna: Exactly!

Parinita: But that’s the thing that you know, when you have this colonised mind, you don’t even imagine what you can imagine. You know like unless you step out of this this sort of bubble, this echo chamber, you don’t know what is possible.

Sanjana: Yeah.

Parinita: And when someone shows you what’s possible, your mind just –

Sanjana: After reading and hearing all of these things what struck me was that the world has changed a lot in the last ten years, like ten or twenty years. It has changed a lot in the sense that it has become a lot more closer – like it’s easier for you to find someone like you on the internet. Who is discussing and thinking the same thoughts. Or echoing the same thoughts back. Because what I’ve tried to understand is that stories were written at a certain time and to not fault the creator completely. Hold them accountable but not blame them completely because they wrote at a different time when they weren’t as educated because they didn’t read enough or they didn’t have enough people talking about things. People are trying to change the stories that were written. Like even if you see larger universes like the Star Wars universe, the first three movies versus the movies now, there is a lot more diversity. And you know even Harry Potter the movies versus the play, there is again you know

Aparna: Yeah.

Sanjana: There is a move to correct what you thought – took for granted so to speak.

Aparna: Correct. Like even in the Star Wars movies, even though one of them is set before the three original movies, there are women pilots and there are –

Sanjana: Yeah.

Aparna: Which never happened like the original trilogy doesn’t have it. But those sort of corrections like nobody is caring about the uproar that it’s creating in the traditional fans. Because everyone’s moving forward.

Sanjana: Nobody cares because it’s so awesome that there are women pilots and they are commanding the planes and it’s just very good. Even Anne With An E?

Parinita: Yeah.

Sanjana: How they’ve taken the original books that were written so long back and interpreted it so beautifully. Like I love how they’ve introduced Cole.

Parinita: They’ve politicised the text more than it ever was political.

Sanjana: And Aunt Josephine also, it’s so cool what they did with her.

Parinita: Yeah! But – so this is a good example of sort of reinterpreting something that was written like –

Sanjana: Yeah.

Parinita: A hundred years ago. A bad example of doing that is – again, I don’t know if you guys – I’m on Twitter in the morning so I know these things. But there was this huge backlash against Barnes and Nobles which is this American bookstore. And one of the stores, I’m not sure who, but somebody here decided that you know all these classic books that are out of copyright so basically anybody can print them? So like things like Anne With An E, Jane Austen and things whatever all these Western classic books. So in order to make them diverse, because I guess now diversity is also a buzzword that everyone wants to capitalise on because we live in a capitalistic society. So they decided that oh you know children should be able to recognise themselves. So they just published covers which had diversity in terms of race and ethnicity. So things like Native Americans, black faces, brown faces. So racebending the characters almost.

Book covers of racebent book covers of classic books

The Barnes and Nobles racebent covers. Image courtesy Ad Week

Aparna: Hmm.

Parinita: But the backlash was that first of all, these people did not write for like a black audience or a brown audience.

Aparna: Exactly.

Parinita: Or a Native American audience. Secondly, instead of spending all this money and resources on diversifying a text that is not diverse, why don’t you just give opportunities to diverse creators to create their own books?

Sanjana: Yeah!

Aparna: Exactly!

Parinita: Yeah. So the internet is all ablaze with this conversation.

Aparna: [laughs]

Sanjana: Yeah.

Aparna: But the internet is also making people more –

Sanjana: Aware!

Aparna: Mindful of these things and more aware of these things. And that’s great.

Parinita: Oh absolutely! Because of this internet outrage the American Dirt her book tour was cancelled and instead they’re going to have a discussion essentially where she talks to people who have concerns.

Aparna: Right.

Parinita: And so I think they’re trying to rectify their mistakes. And the Barnes and Nobles, I believe they’ve decided not to do it anymore.

Aparna: Oh wow.

Parinita: Because there was such a – I mean they’d already printed it. And I might be completely lying and making this up. But I think they’ve decided – or maybe it’s just wishful thinking. But I think they’ve decided not to do it anymore. But they’ve spent all the money so yeah.

Sanjana: Hmm. Another thing that has changed from then to now is the Young Justice series. And the first episode came out in 2010. And the newest season has come out now, like at the end of 2019. And there is a vast difference between the representation of people and the diversity in terms of even gender and genderfluid characters and –

Parinita: Oh like She-Ra! She-Ra is also another fantastic thing where the earlier She-Ra was I’ve not watched it. But the one on Netflix, lots of gender diversity, there’s a nonbinary character. Or no, I think a genderfluid character. And yeah there’s just so much representation.

Aparna: Speaking of, we’ll now come to the Rosa Parks episode of Doctor Who. So my opinion of this episode changed completely after listening to the podcast Woke Doctor Who, their episode “Sweep Your Own Yard”. Because when I first watched it, I was very excited and I really liked the episode. But when listened to this podcast, and it was viewed from the experience of what was wrong with it and what could have been done better and why they didn’t like the episode. And it all just came so clearly to me of how like they spoke about how the power of the people’s movement was missing and the activism of Rosa Parks was reduced to – her reduced to this tired seamstress. And even though they got a black woman to write the episode, she’s from the UK, not from the US. But the things that were lacking showed very like little concern. This is what I call a Wikipedia article level research. [laughs] When the context was not properly understood and that’s why something that probably had good intentions behind it ended up being a really clumsy way of telling a story.

Sanjana: Yeah I made initial judgements about the episode in general, not realising that there was a podcast waiting to –

[Aparna and Parinita laugh]

Sanjana: Make that come crashing down. And I was like what?! And I was pausing saying like how could you not – but that just showed me if I had not heard that podcast, I would have gone away feeling that they did such a good job of it.

Aparna: Yeah!

Sanjana: And then without hearing that, I would have been praising them and not realising how much harm they did. Because at the end of the day, I would have gone back wondering wow, good job. And it was actually ‘cause it did more harm to the story of Rosa Parks than it did good. How it’s important to just you know go a little bit beyond the initial research and to get the right people to write it. Or even consult on it a little bit so that you heard it firsthand. It’s not that hard anymore. So that can’t be an excuse.

Parinita: So I think I have a slightly different opinion.

Sanjana: Hmm.

Parinita: Because I did this a little long way round. So I’d watched the “Rosa” episode when it first came out a couple of years ago. Loved it – completely loved it. And then I listened to this podcast first, I listened to it a few months ago, but then I listened to it again in preparation for this episode. And then I went back and watched the “Rosa” episode again. And I totally am with Woke Doctor Who on some of the critiques. I think that they’ve completely erased black women’s experiences – you know black women’s activism. That was the crux of the civil rights movement in the US and even now like with – like they mentioned Black Lives Matter, #MeToo.

Aparna: Yeah.

Parinita: They’ve completely erased them. So black women have – and they were the ones who do the most activism with intersectionality, with everything like what we’re doing here on this podcast. And I think they also – yeah like Paru said, reduced the activism of Rosa Parks. And the episode positioned it as if it didn’t happen at that moment, it would never happen.

Aparna: Yeah.

Sanjana: Hmm.

Parinita: Which now we know isn’t true because she would have just done it on another day. So like I guess it was a convenient form of storytelling.

Sanjana: Yeah she was chosen for it.

Parinita: Yeah. She was chosen for it because like they said, she was a light-skinned black woman. So it was a very deliberate, very smart, very well-strategised choice. So it removes the agency of the activists and of Rosa herself.

Aparna: Yeah.

Parinita: For the convenience of storytelling. And another of their critiques was that the UK has a habit of talking about American racism like pointing its fingers to the US because racism there is so much more extreme. And it’s so much more visible. Because of you know like all the stuff that we hear on the news. Police brutality against black men, black women. And so it’s easier to point fingers there but they do it at the expense of not exploring racism in the UK. Which might be different but it still exists. So racism still exists in the UK but they don’t explore that. They had a critique that Yaz and Ryan’s experiences of racism weren’t brought up in the show. Which I disagree with.

Sanjana: Yeah.

Parinita: Because Ryan and Yaz were attacked. Like Ryan was slapped by the white man right in the beginning, as soon as he got –

Sanjana: Yeah.

Parinita: As soon as they got to –

Sanjana: Yeah, that even I agree.

Parinita: They had to – they were kicked out of a bar, they were called Negro and Mexican because you know Yaz’s identity doesn’t matter obviously. They weren’t able to get a room in a hotel – or they had to sneak in through the window. The police came after them. And then they sat and talked about how even in the UK in 2019 – 18 whenever that was, like it’s not like Rosa Parks had cured racism. Because –

Aparna: Yeah.

Parinita: Ryan was still checked by the police more than a white person was. Yaz, even though she’s a police person herself, she’s called Paki on the road which is a slur in the UK and she’s called a terrorist as well. Because of her identity.

Sanjana: Yeah.

Parinita: So I guess they didn’t explore it as much as they could have. But it wasn’t a story about them. I feel like they did.

Sanjana: No, that I agree with. Because when I initially wrote down my thoughts about the episode, that was the one thing that I took away about how then and now they did discuss about how they showed them how they were being treated plus they showed them discussing about the now. And so the then and now of how they were being treated was discussed to a small extent.

Parinita: To a small extent, yeah. And another critique that I agreed with was that the fact that this dude who comes from the 71st century and he’s a white supremacist. And they couldn’t believe in Woke Doctor Who that even in the 71st century –

Aparna: Yeah.

Parinita: Black people are still having to prove their humanity. Why is there white supremacy in the 71st century? Like if your idea of science fiction – and this is a critique I’ve heard about other science fiction as well. Like if your idea of the future doesn’t envision equality, or it envisions a certain group of people who are already marginalised now. Either they don’t exist in the future like your diversity stretches to having aliens and robots.

Aparna: Yeah.

Parinita: But not black people, brown people in positions of equality … what does that then say about what you think of these people, these groups now?

Aparna: Exactly.

Sanjana: Haan.

Parinita: So yeah that’s a critique that I totally agreed with. And I agree with their critiques and I totally get where they’re coming from, so this isn’t to respond to – they’re totally justified in having these concerns. But I watched the episode again, and I still loved the episode. I still thought it was a good episode. And I think that the episode could be used to explore the gaps that it doesn’t address. I think it would be such a good starting – a discussion episode. If you watch it with a child or even if you watch it with an adult, and then have a conversation after that. Because it ends on such a triumphant note.

Aparna: It does.

Parinita: And even though Jodie in the end, she does say that Rosa had to struggle. Like she didn’t cure racism.

Sanjana: Yeah.

Parinita: She lost her job. She knew the consequences. She got arrested, she lost her job, it was a lifelong struggle for her. And obviously racism still exists. But what she did was still important and having her story on a mainstream popular show like Doctor Who I think that’s really – it is important. And of course, there are mistakes that everybody would make. Like no text can be perfect you know but I think even an imperfect – in fact, an imperfect text, there’s more opportunities for conversations.

Sanjana: Yeah but see the point is that how many people have this conversation. It’s just that. I agree with you completely. You can take away a lot of positive things from it and at the end of the day, it’s not all bad. But the thing is how many of us have a discussion about it after watching the episode.

Parinita: No, absolutely! Again, if we don’t know that there was something wrong with the episode –

Sanjana: Yeah.

Aparna: Yeah.

Parinita: We wouldn’t possibly have a discussion

Sanjana: Exactly.

Parinita: When I first encountered these critiques is when I’d first watched the episode and then I went on Twitter because I was so excited about the episode and I wanted to know what other people were saying, and I did then encounter these critiques from –

Sanjana: Right.

Parinita: Black people in the US. Saying that no this is what you need to do to get a true picture of Rosa and her activism. Like lots of Twitter threads. So, the internet and social media there is a huge educational … you can learn so much from there.

Aparna: Yeah.

Sanjana: Absolutely.

Parinita: Yeah but then like you’re saying, not everyone has these conversations and maybe that’s something that like –

Aparna: Also Doctor Who is not a small show. They know the kind of audience they attract and they’ve been doing this for years and years. So if they are making a Rosa Parks episode, sorry, but I would expect a little bit more from them.

Parinita: Yeah. I agree. But I think that’s the – like I loved Woke Doctor Who – the episode – for making me think of all these critiques –

Aparna: Correct.

Parinita: And for making me thinking of all these things.

Sanjana: Yeah.

Parinita: But I just don’t agree with all their critiques because I think the show tried, not always success – in some places, it didn’t try at all. And that absolutely like it needs – it could have been very easily woven into the story. Like having more black women, having Rosa’s activism could –

Sanjana: Hmm.

Parinita: It wouldn’t have – it would have added to the story. I don’t know why they decided not to have that as a part in the story. But there are some critiques that I felt like the show did try to address if a little like if not completely, if that makes sense.

Aparna: And now we’re coming to another What If? section.

Sanjana: [makes sound effect]

Parinita: Our last section of the podcast.

Aparna: Yes. And this is one What If from Parinita. What if you had to decolonise the Hogwarts curriculum? What would you include in it? I’m going to start with mine. Basically I was just reminded of this conversation that Harry and Hagrid have in the very beginning about – I’m paraphrasing – but Harry asks why more people don’t know about magic. And Hagrid says something to the effect of then everyone will want to use magic to solve the world’s problems – their own problems. So my curriculum change would be to expose the people in the wizarding world to more of the world’s problems. Like the climate crisis. I don’t know maybe they can solve it, in which case it would be magic well spent. So maybe there are wizards and witches who want to use magic to solve the world’s problems and they should know about the world’s problems to be able to solve them.

Parinita: And also magic is not a finite resource. Why don’t you solve human problems?!

Aparna: Exactly!

Sanjana: Yeah!

Parinita: Why are you hoarding magic like your skills and stuff?

Aparna: That’s what!

Parinita: Like use it na, use it to solve everyone’s problems.

Aparna: See no! Like even if it involves – even if it needs you to mind-control spells or on policy makers to make them –

Parinita: As a PhD researcher, I have a huge ethical problem with mind control.

Aparna: I have no problem with it. No more trees should be cut to build flyovers.

Parinita: I’d like to tell my examiners I don’t approve of mind-controlling my research participants.

[Aparna and Sanjana laugh]

Aparna: What about you, Parinita?

Parinita: So my decolonising would involve first of all hiring more diverse staff. Having more people who are just not white, able-bodied like whatever class backgrounds they belong to. Just having more diversity in the staff in general. Making more efforts to recruit people from diverse backgrounds as well. And why not have more interactions with Muggles? I know this is something that might not be possible in a Hogwarts – this would be a systemic overhaul with the Ministry of Magic and all. But I feel like there’s a lot to learn – a lot that Muggles can learn from wizards, like Muggle children can learn from wizarding children but also magical children can learn so much from Muggle children as well. Like in terms of the literature that they read. And like all this conversation that we’re having about We Need Diverse Books and Own Voices –

Aparna: Yeah.

Parinita: I feel like that can be incorporated into Hogwarts as well. So they’re reading widely. They’re not just reading wizarding books, they’re also reading Muggle books. And not just British Muggle books and they’re reading books from all over the world, especially the countries they’ve colonised.

Sanjana: So I’m just going to interject and add this because I had a – they should have a course on world literature and they should read like Satyajit Ray and Chinua Achebe and stuff is what I wanted them to read.

Parinita: Yeah. And also it’s 2020. Figure out your technology problems now. Technology and the internet –

Sanjana: Yeah! Oh my god!

Parinita: And social media are very important decolonising conversations. Please get your shit together. Read some Twitter threads, read some articles. Like you need the internet, you need computers and smartphones.

Sanjana: Yeah.

Parinita: That’s my decolonising Hogwarts curriculum idea.

Sanjana: So in that event I feel like they should have a film studies course.

Parinita: Hmm yeah.

Sanjana: And like you know like have world cinema screening.

Aparna: [laughs]

Sanjana: Like have like a Gandhi class and have a …

Parinita: [laughs] Yeah.

Sanjana: Just arrange them on the carpet and watch movies.

Parinita: I mean I feel like –

Sanjana: I’m sure if they want, they can project it on the wall or something.

Parinita: Like they’ve figured out magic, surely they can figure out Muggle technology. But also with this decolonising Hogwarts curriculum, I feel this is also really important in Muggle educational systems. Like in the UK, the students here don’t seem to learn about the effect that the Empire had. Like I was reading this book about Brexit, written by these two academics who live in Oxford, and they’ve based it on solid research and things. And they’re like yeah, students have this very skewed idea of what the Empire was and what the effect was on the world. And now it’s like those same students who are complaining about foreigners and immigrants and voting for Brexit because they don’t understand why all these brown and black people are here. Like why are we here?! Like you’ve destroyed our economy, why do you think we’re arriving here?!

[Sanjana and Aparna laugh]

Parinita: And in India as well. Like we don’t learn about caste, we don’t learn about religion in – we don’t even learn about the Empire really, except in really abstract terms. We don’t learn about the ongoing impact –

Sanjana: Yeah.

Parinita: The British divide and rule policy has had and how it’s been taken advantage of by politicians and media and culture and everything. So –

Aparna: Yeah.

Parinita: I think that decolonising needs to be a worldwide phenomenon.

Sanjana: No, no, it’s true. We study history very badly. We’re not told about the real, actual stories because recently we did a comic on path-breaking women and I just realised there’s so much of history that we’ve just not been told. Why aren’t we reading about these women in school books is what I don’t understand.

Aparna: Okay that’s a good place to wrap up this episode. I’m going to ask everyone for their closing thoughts.

Sanjana: Well it’s more of a closing thought on the general research that this podcast has brought in my life. And I just – I love the conversations that we’re having on a daily basis. It’s just – it’s very liberating to think on – to think. Just after college now.

Aparna: [laughs]

Sanjana: And I hope that even if no – like a few people listen and think even a little bit, I feel like it might it’s – that’s my closing thought. Just thoughts.

Aparna: Parinita?

Parinita: My closing thought is diversity isn’t political. We need more diversity, all kinds of diversity, everywhere. And I feel like this podcast is such a good way of allowing me to question my own biases and assumptions. Like you think you’re open-minded and you think you –

Sanjana: Yeah!

Parinita: You know, you have these thoughts. But you don’t even know what you’re missing. Once you know that what things you have a blind spot on, it’s nice to be able to educate yourself. So –

Aparna: That’s true.

Parinita: Thank you internet and thank you social media.

Aparna: [laughs]

Parinita: And fandom! Thank you fandom.

Aparna: And my closing thought is a sentence that I heard at a workshop that I attended in Bombay last week. Which is that we are responsible for the stories we hear. And all the stories are out there, especially now with the internet. Everyone’s story can be heard. So we have to just listen. Thanks for listening!

Parinita: Bye!

Sanjana and Aparna: Bye!

[Outro music]

You’ve been listening to Part Two of our two-part episode on race and representation. If you haven’t heard the first part yet, listen to it for our interpretations of intersectionality, our complaints about token diversity in science fiction and fantasy, our struggles with our colonised minds, and the importance of Own Voices. Thanks again Paru and Sana for sharing my PhD brain and being the best podcast partners in the universe! And a big fat thank you to Jack for doing all the technical editing bits so I don’t have to.

You can now listen to Marginally Fannish on Spotify, Apple, Google, or SoundCloud. I’d love to hear from you and talk to you – so any feedback, comments or critiques are very welcome! Get in touch with me on social media, leave a comment on my blog, or email me at edps@leeds.ac.uk. If you’d like to follow the podcast or the PhD project, visit my website marginallyfannish.org where you’ll find both the podcast episodes and the blog. You can also receive updates on Facebook or Instagram at Marginally Fannish or on Twitter where I’m @MarginalFannish. If you enjoyed the podcast, please share it with anyone you think will enjoy it too.

Thanks for listening! Tune in again next time for all things fannish and intersectional!

[Outro music]

Episode 2 Failure of Imagination: Representations of Race in Media and Fandom – Part 1

This is Part One of the episode. Click here to listen to/read Part Two.

Episode Resources: 

For this episode we looked at a bunch of texts:

Reddit thread – “Does anyone feel as if POC are very underrepresented in certain fandoms?”

Twitter thread – Darren Chetty writes about the lack of racial and ethnic diversity in Hogwarts

Buzzfeed article – “What A ‘Racebent’ Hermione Granger Really Represents”

Excerpt from Fierce Bad Rabbits Fierce Bad Rabbits: The Tales Behind Children’s Picture Books by Clare Pollard

Kirkus Review article – “Writing Outside Your Identity” by Laura Simeon

 

Episode Transcript: 

This is a clean transcript of the episode. If you would prefer the original, unedited version, please let me know!

[Intro music]

Welcome to Marginally Fannish, a show where we aim an intersectional lens at some of our favourite media and their fandoms.

[Intro music]

You’re listening to the first part of our episode on race and representation. As three Indian fangirls of mostly Western media (but also Bollywood!), we have a LOT of thoughts about this episode’s theme. We didn’t want to stop talking, which is why we divided this episode into two parts.

In this part, we describe our different interpretations of intersectionality and how we first first came across the term. We discuss how much we all owe to black women and black activists in the US for our ongoing conversations about diversity. We talk about our feelings about the term “non-white” and “person of colour” (spoiler alert: they both make us uncomfortable but one more than the other). We complain about token diversity in fantasy, science fiction, and Harry Potter. We talk about how much we love the idea of a black Hermione but also how her tackling of S.P.E.W was super problematic (you need to be a good ally, Hermione!). We chat about our colonised minds and the struggles of identifying with white fictional characters. We discuss the importance of Own Voices and also how media creators can use their privilege to be more inclusive and empathetic. We end Part One by talking about how scary the world would be if our Hogwarts Houses defined the rest of our lives. Find out why we think the Hogwarts Houses resemble the Hindu caste system (and why it makes us very uncomfortable!). We would prefer more integration and intermingling among the four Houses please!

Happy listening!

[Intro music]

Parinita: “It is impossible to talk about the single story without talking about power. There is a word, an Igbo word, that I think about whenever I think about the power structures of the world and it is nkali. It’s a noun that loosely translates to be greater than another. Like our economic and political worlds, stories too are defined by the principle of nkali. How they are told, who tells them, when they’re told, how many stories are told, are really dependent on power. Power is the ability not just to tell the story of another person, but to make it the definitive story of that person.” That was Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in her TED Talk “The Danger of a Single Story”. Hi! My name is Parinita.

Sanjana: Hi, I’m Sanjana.

Aparna: And I’m Aparna. And today’s episode is about race. So let’s start by talking about intersectionality because the best way to talk about race, or anything for that matter, is to view it through the lens of intersectionality. Which is a word that I was introduced to very recently. I think I identified with the theory of it already but the word for it, I have gotten to know better only in the recent past. Apparently, it was coined as part of a research paper, I think, in 1989 by a Professor Crenshaw to describe how different marginalised identities intersect and overlap. And I feel like this is essential to understand a complex and realistic experience that is a person’s life rather than a simplistic this-or-that picture that we all grow up consuming or understanding. I’d like to know what both of your views on intersectionality are. Sana, what is your interpretation of it?

Sanjana: So, like you, I recently started reading up a little bit more about it to understand it better. And what I’ve understood about it is that it’s a sort of a concept. I’ve understood it as a concept that helps explain disparity in society – that helps explain it to the other side maybe to try and get them to see that it’s not just one thing that you face in general or it’s not just one thing that holds you – that –

Aparna: Defines.

Sanjana: Defines you. Or even places you in context with everybody else. But Parinita, you’ve been reading a lot about intersectionality.

Parinita: That’s right.

Sanjana: A more clearer voice on what more –

Parinita: No, I found it really interesting. So just before I talk about what I think about intersectionality, did you guys come across the word because of this podcast? Because you knew that that was my lens of this podcast?

Sanjana: Yes.

Parinita: Or had you come across it otherwise?

Aparna: I think I’d come across it because I read a lot of pop culture –

Parinita: Right.

Aparna: Reviews and articles and discussions. But I never really looked up what it means.

Parinita: Yeah.

Aparna: Or like tried to understand where it’s come from and what it actually is supposed to define. Turns out different people define it differently also. So that I started doing only after the podcast.

Sanjana: I, to be honest, only read the word when you had sent us an overview of your paper just to read in general. Just for general feedback, not when we were talking about this podcast at all.

Parinita: Yeah.

Sanjana: And that is when I came across the word. And I very vaguely looked it up so that I would understand what you were writing better. But it is because of the podcast that I found it necessary to understand it better for my own self.

Parinita: So, like Paru, I also discovered this word online. It’s really become a buzzword of sorts because it’s used in a lot of different contexts online. Especially with popular media representations and things. But also with discussions of feminism online. And from my research, what I found is that the term – it basically traces its roots to black feminism in the US. So what Paru said, Kimberlé Crenshaw’s article. And it analysed how not only gender but also race and class affect the lives of black women. So that’s where it started. But now like I said, with internet conversations and even within academia, the scope of gender, race, and class has widened. So now intersectionality’s scope – it basically looks at how different multiple and complex social inequalities interact with each other. So, for example, your life is significantly better or worse based on where you live and on things like –

Sanjana: Yeah.

Parinita: Your gender, your class, your race, your sexual orientation –

Sanjana: Yeah.

Parinita: Your ethnicity, which part of the country you’re from, which part of the world you’re from. Like we see that in India so much now with the recent protests, right? Like the national origin is such a huge question and your religion is such a huge question.

Parinita: Also, what you guys said was absolutely what I think of intersectionality as well. But reading more about it, it’s such a contextual thing. Because you can be marginalised in some cases and you can be privileged in others. Some of your identities can be –

Sanjana and Aparna: Yeah.

Parinita: So in India like gender would play a bigger role for me just because as an Indian woman you know walking in the streets and just –

Sanjana: Yeah, yeah, yeah!

Parinita: Whereas for me in India my national origin or my race didn’t play any role. It’s not something I thought of at all. Whereas now that I’m in England in the UK, with just this sort of national discourse that’s become so anti-immigrant and anti-foreigner, I’m much more aware of my race and I’m much more aware of my immigration status than I would be in India. And even though I’m –

Sanjana: Yeah.

Parinita: Like in a university setting in the UK, so I’m like really privileged otherwise as well and in terms of class and stuff. So it’s a really complicated sort of thing. And within the context of fandom, so I started thinking about intersectionality because I thought it was a really interesting thing that I had not thought about. Like I’d not known the term. But I had encountered a lot of these diverse perspectives in fandom. So things like how disabled students would navigate Hogwarts or why there need to be more diverse Time Lords in the TARDIS. Like there’ve so far been only white men. Like until before Jodie. It was all white men.

Sanjana: And! And!

Parinita: Yeah.

Sanjana: [laughs]

Parinita: Until Jodie and now! The newest Doctor!

Sanjana: Now!

Parinita: Which –

Sanjana: Like it couldn’t have come at a better time.

Parinita: Right?!

Sanjana: Like oh my god!

Aparna: [laughs]

Parinita: I mean we’ll talk about it later as well, but it opens up so many more possibilities and so many more exciting possibilities that I can’t wait to see where it goes.

Aparna: Yeah.

Sanjana: Yeah.

Parinita: What I have found, in conversations about intersectionality and also about diversity in general, in like children’s book publishing or in popular media and stuff, there seems to be a really heavy focus on race. It’s usually through the lens of race that all these We Need Diverse Books and things –

Aparna: Yeah.

Parinita: At least in Western media, that’s what it’s talked about. In India, it might be more caste-based or region-based or perhaps language-based.

Aparna: Yeah.

Sanjana: Gender-based in India, I would say.

Parinita: Sorry?

Sanjana: Gender-based in India.

Aparna: Yeah.

Parinita: Yeah. Whereas in the West, it’s very heavily focused on race, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Sanjana: Hmm.

Parinita: Because even though the talks began with racial diversity, just like with intersectionality, it has expanded the scope. So that there’s sexual orientation, religion, class – all these other identities. However, I still do think that among intersectionality scholarship but also among talks of diversity, the heavy focus is still on race in Western media. And that’s why I’ve tried to expand the identities in my own podcast you know in terms of the intersectional themes that we’re looking at.

Aparna: Yeah.

Parinita: Just so that race is a good starting point, but other categories shouldn’t be overlooked based on that.

Sanjana: Yeah.

Parinita: And black people in the US seem to be paving the way for so many movements and so many like conversations about diversity. Because they work so actively to highlight their perspectives. I was reading this research paper about a network of black podcasters. And essentially, they’re making fan podcasts and just discussion podcasts in ways that highlight their perspectives in media which erases their experiences largely. One of the texts that we listened to for this episode was the Black Girl Nerds episode, right? And –

Sanjana: Yeah.

Parinita: Black Girl Nerds is an example of this. So, when Game of Thrones, the last season was out, I discovered their recaps. After every episode, they would just talk about the episode, what they thought. Like what the three of us do on WhatsApp, they did on a podcast.

Sanjana: Haan.

Aparna: Yeah.

Parinita: But because Game of Thrones is such a white world, like there’s mostly white people in charge, so they would be talking about it from the lens of the two black characters that were left in the show.

Aparna: Yeah.

Parinita: And I found that so interesting because it just opened up my mind so much because it’s not something I would have thought of doing myself.

Aparna: Correct.

Parinita: And this is something they do all the time in popular culture, highlighting their perspectives and also working with each other. So, it’s not just an isolated thing where they want to make money or whatever. But they are actively collaborating with others and promoting each other and I think this collaboration is such a crucial component of any form of activism even if it is something like what we’re doing.

Aparna: Yeah.

Sanjana: Absolutely.

Parinita: Right?

Sanjana: Yeah.

Parinita: So another of the texts that we looked at this time was a Reddit thread about fandom and about how there is a lack of POC in fandom and I’ll link to this in the transcript of the episode. But the term POC, it’s an acronym for person of colour. And, Sana, you said that you hadn’t heard of the term POC, right?

Sanjana: No. So when we were looking up stuff to read about this episode, I was looking up stuff to read, and I was Googling various terms and this came up. This thread sort of popped out and I had to Google what POC was. I, yeah, had never heard of the term.

Parinita: Yeah. Which I’m not at all surprised by because it stands for person of colour. And one of the people in the thread did point this out – did critique the term – because it’s such a US-centric term.

Sanjana: Yeah.

Parinita: Because everywhere else in the world, we’re not measured against white people. Like in India, we’re not –

Sanjana: Yeah!

Aparna: Yeah.

Parinita: Right? We’re all people of colour in India.

Sanjana: Within our people of colour also we have various shades.

Parinita: Absolutely!

Aparna: [laughs]

Sanjana: No what I mean is like India also has their own person of colour –

Parinita: Problems.

Sanjana: Gauge happening.

Parinita: Yeah!

Sanjana: Yeah problems.

Parinita: Yeah like light-skinnedness versus dark-skinnedness.

Sanjana: Yeah!

Parinita: Which has so many … which caste and which class and which part of the country.

Sanjana: Yeah.

Parinita: So in the thread itself, some people were trying to talk about instead of using the term person of colour, you can use diverse ethnic backgrounds or non-white. But I find the term non-white a little problematic. Just because –

Sanjana: No, no, it’s quite problematic.

Aparna: Yeah.

Parinita: Right? What do you think of the term non-white?

Sanjana: Very – very – not little problematic. Quite problematic!

Parinita: [laughs] Yeah. Why do you think it’s problematic?

Sanjana: It’s a little worse than person of colour. Like we are the island of white and everybody else floating around is like far away and not – non-white.

Parinita: I absolutely agree with this. And it’s something that I had – well not an argument, more maybe a debate, with Jack, my white boyfriend.

Sanjana: Haan.

Parinita: Who was saying that he prefers the term – not prefers, but when he’s talking about people who are not white, he prefers to use the term non-white and I was like that makes me uncomfortable for precisely the reason you said, Sana. Because it positions you against like white is normative and everything else is othered.

Aparna and Sanjana: Yeah!

Parinita: Right?

Sanjana: Exactly. It sounds like we are up there in a fort you know.

Parinita: Correct.

Sanjana: Yeah. It’s talking down.

Parinita: Yeah.

Sanjana: Sort of.

Parinita: And I mean I do understand why non-white is like a sort of convenient catchall term.

Aparna: Correct.

Sanjana: Yeah.

Parinita: And person of colour is also not a great term. But I prefer person of colour to non-white.

Sanjana: Yeah.

Parinita: And so in the thread itself, in response to this critique, a responder shared a video about the origins of the term woman of colour.

Sanjana: Hmm.

Parinita: Which featured this feminist called Loretta Ross. And she described that the term came to be coined as a form of solidarity among different groups of oppressed women. So it was supposed to be a political designation and not a biological one. So it’s not literally about the colour of your skin. Because white is also a colour. Right?

Sanjana: Yeah.

Parinita: So it’s a political identity. And in the video, it’s a really short video and I’ll link to it. But something that she said was so interesting was that the origin of the term has been forgotten because history isn’t documented and it’s not preserved and it’s not taught.

Sanjana: Yeah.

Parinita: And that really made me think of the protests in India that are happening now the anti-CAA and the anti-NRC ones. Where there was this excellent video by Raghu Karnad. I don’t know if you guys have seen it. It’s called “Remembering Emergency and the Student Protests the BJP Doesn’t Talk About.” So it essentially talks of how people in India, we don’t learn about the history of protest.

Aparna: Yes.

Sanjana: Yeah!

Parinita: Right? Like we’re not taught, even though the BJP like they did student protests, the current BJP members.

Aparna: Exactly!

Parinita: Right?

Aparna: Yeah! Protest is such an important part of any movement or the development of any group of people. But it’s in the best interest of the government to not encourage you to know about protests obviously. So, it’s sort of successfully been forgotten every time.

Parinita: Yeah. And it’s such a huge part of democracy. Like the right –

Aparna: Yeah.

Parinita: To question your government. And now they’ve positioned protest as something that’s anti-national.

Sanjana: Hmm.

Parinita: But the fact that you care so much about your country and about protecting your country, how can that be anti-national? So I thought that it was a really interesting –

Sanjana: Yeah.

Parinita: Interesting analogy.

Sanjana: So talking about race and general diversity in the texts and the universes that we meet, focusing on Harry Potter in particular, there was this very interesting Twitter thread that was by someone called Darren Chetty. Which was very similar to the thoughts that I’d had when I was just generally noting down thoughts without reading anything. That there is diversity – like the universe as such talks about diversity – but within the magical world. Like it does talk about inclusion and stuff but very allegorically. I wanted to read one of the tweets that he had written. “So a story that has so much to say about racism on an allegorical level at the same time depicts people of colour as marginal without actually exploring their marginalisation.” I thought that was very interesting because there is like the house elves and giants and the pure race of wizards and –

Parinita: Yeah.

Sanjana: The Mudbloods as the bad word is.

Parinita: [laughs]

Sanjana: And I just thought that was a very interesting take on it. For a text that does that is basing all this on race and the history of how people have been treated. But you’re still not addressing –

Aparna: Actual.

Sanjana: Actual anything. What did you take from that?

Parinita: What that made me think of, this metaphorical racism, and again – like it’s really easy to read the Harry Potter series I think as something that really talks about like you said inclusivity and just non-prejudiced attitudes and everything. But it’s not a radical text at all because it’s –

Sanjana: Yeah.

Parinita: It’s so allegorical. And it’s similar to science fiction where you know aliens and robots usually take the place of other races and cultures. So there’s this whole colonising new planet narratives without –

Aparna: Yeah.

Parinita: Exploring what that actually means. Or the history of colonising. For example, in Doctor Who, there – there were two black companions. So there was Martha and Bill. Were there any others? Well now currently there’s Ryan.

Sanjana: Yeah.

Parinita: In the earlier ones, before Jodie, there was Martha and Bill who travelled to the past but the show doesn’t explore the impact of this. Like –

Aparna: Yeah.

Parinita: The fact that they would be unsafe in these societies where people who were not white were not considered to be equal.

Parinita: Whereas in the Rosa Parks episode that we also watched for this podcast, Ryan and Yaz go back to Montgomery, Alabama in 1955 and they were targeted for being black and for being brown. Like she’s called Mexican even though she’s desi. But –

Aparna: Yeah.

Sanjana: Yeah.

Parinita: That explored it a little more. We’ll talk about the episode more in detail later but racism is something that would affect people based on the time period that you’re in. It’s not something that’s just – you can’t be colourblind to it. You can’t just say –

Aparna: Exactly.

Parinita: Oh everyone lives happily.

Aparna: You can’t have moved past it just for the sake of telling your story that the allegory rings a little hollow.

Parinita: Exactly and like the colourblindness is very much present I think in the Harry Potter series which –

Sanjana: Absolutely.

Parinita: I didn’t think about while I was reading it at all. Oh there’s like the brown twins and then there’s Cho Chang –

Sanjana: Yeah.

Parinita: Who may be Chinese, may be Korean, we don’t know. Because remember last time when we got so angry about Panju?

Sanjana: Yeah.

Parinita: The name Panju.

Aparna: [laughs]

Parinita: The other sort of controversy about the name Cho Chang is that it could be Chinese, it could be Korean, and it doesn’t quite make sense in either country. But we know nothing about Cho Chang except that she’s in Ravenclaw, you know, we know nothing about her ethnic identity. We know nothing about Parvati and … do they celebrate Diwali? Do they not eat beef? We don’t know any of these things about them. So I really liked what Darren calls this. He calls this a “failure of imagination”. Which I think is something that you not only see in this book, you see in a lot of popular media everywhere.

Sanjana: Yeah.

Aparna: Yeah. It’s very surface level – not three-dimensional characters. Just who’ve been named as a certain way just for the sake of diversity to be a part of the cast but it just doesn’t translate. Like you can tell that it’s not a well-written character – that particular one – when obviously J. K. Rowling, for example, has the ability to write fantastic characters. But the fact that these characters are so one-dimensional is a bit uncomfortable the more you think about it.

Sanjana: As a kid when I read the Harry Potter books and for the first time Parvati comes on the scene, I was super excited to read that name because I was like “Hey I know a Parvati!”

[Parinita and Aparna laugh]

Sanjana: Oh my god I was super excited. And just that much mention of them did so much for me as being included in this vast universe. To only imagine that what it does to so many like just this small mention did that much emotion for me. That this pale Indian character in the background who doesn’t have any more character than just her name did so much for me.

Aparna: Yeah. [laughs]

Parinita: So no you know like that’s another thing ‘cause like we do critique now, especially as adults, the lack of fleshing out characters of colour. Like in the other text that we looked at, The Gayly Prophet text “Clearly Hermione Is Black”, they counted seven characters of colour in the whole series.

Sanjana: Yeah.

Aparna: Yeah.

Parinita And one Jewish character. And I’m in the UK, I know that it’s much more diverse than that. So you know Darren Chetty, he says, why are there not more people of colour in Hogwarts or even among the teaching staff? Like why is it so white? Where are all the teachers of colour?

Aparna: Yeah!

Parinita: But then as much as we like to critique this, I think Sana like you said, superficial representations sometimes can also have a powerful impact –

Sanjana: Yeah.

Parinita: On people, I think. Because you know how J. K. Rowling sort of takes credit for diversity that wasn’t actually there in the books? Like –

Aparna: Yeah.

Parinita: For example black Hermione and Dumbledore is gay. And as adults or as people who are a part of these conversations

Sanjana: Please – yeah.

Parinita: It’s easy to say that this doesn’t count whatever. But in a university workshop that I was at, I was talking to this person on my table. And she was saying that her child is non-binary and they – when they discovered that Dumbledore is gay, even though it’s not in the text, like you can read the entire series without knowing Dumbledore is gay. But when they heard about it just through conversations with their parents maybe, they were so excited! They were you know –

Aparna: [laughs]

Parinita: That coloured their whole reading of the texts. So even though –

Sanjana: Yeah.

Parinita: That came later, even though it was superficial … For us we want more but …

Sanjana: Haan no absolutely. It can be very powerful just to identify with, which is what I’m saying – just small identifications, can you imagine what a well-written character would do for like a kid growing up?

Parinita: Absolutely!

Sanjana: I was just trying to say it could have been done so much better.

Parinita: Of course.

Aparna: Yeah.

Sanjana: Like she could have owned not putting it in the original but wanting to –

Aparna: Correct.

Sanjana: Add this to the story like –

Parinita: Absolutely.

Sanjana: It could have made so much of a difference to the way everybody received it.

Aparna: Correct.

Aparna: But Hermione being black, the more I’m reading online or the podcasts that we’re listening to, or the comments on the articles, some people are completely convinced and have been from the beginning that Hermione is black. But for others it’s like obviously not. So I’m not sure what J. K. Rowling had in mind but some people have managed to completely own the character nonetheless.

Sanjana: No but listen, if Rowling thought that she was black from the very beginning, she had a say in the way –

Aparna: No, no, she –

Sanjana: She had been cast.

Aparna: Haan.

Parinita: I don’t think that’s true. But I love the idea of a black Hermione because I’ve been reading a lot of articles and fan texts and things about how if she’s black, her activism really makes sense. Like her outrage against –

Sanjana: Yeah.

Aparna: Yeah! Exactly.

Parinita: House elf slavery and you know –

Aparna: Correct.

Fan art of black Hermione

Racebent Hermione fan art. Image courtesy Sophia Canning

Parinita: Dumbledore’s Army and everything. But then since the last week, I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts and especially on this one podcast called Harry Potter and the Sacred Text, there have been conversations about how Hermione’s handling of S.P.E.W. was actually really problematic and was a bit white feministy or maybe like in an Indian context, savarna feministy, I guess. Because she didn’t talk to the – like she came saying that oh I know better than you and pitying the house elves but not –

Aparna: Correct.

Parinita: Having conversations with them.

Aparna: I will fix things for you.

Parinita: Exactly! And she was not a good ally. She was controlling it and she was putting her – what she thought was correct into you know circulation – the ideas into circulation without talking to them and talking to –

Aparna: Yeah.

Parinita: How they would want to be a part of it. Or do they want to be a part of it?

Aparna: Correct.

Parinita: And you also need an education. Like there’s so much internalised prejudice against your own identities just because of the messages you get in society, that sometimes it needs to start from educating, you know, just raising awareness about your oppressed identity. You may not realise you’re oppressed. So it needs to start from there. And so –

Sanjana: Yeah.

Parinita: I thought that was also a really interesting interpretation like it’s a great thing she did but maybe … you know because it was presented quite uncritically. In fact, her whole activism was very much a joke. Like in terms of you know how because we read the whole series from Harry’s perspective, he –

Sanjana and Aparna: Yeah!

Parinita: Didn’t take it seriously so the readers also don’t really take it seriously. But there is so much room there for critique and exploration. But it might reflect her own biases and her own worldview at that time or even now. But like you were saying, Sana, it would be so much more impactful if she acknowledged her blind spots. Because obviously all of us have blind spots.

Sanjana: Yeah.

Parinita: Like we can’t know everything about everything. It’s just questioning your biases and questioning your social conditioning and trying to unlearn that. Like if you don’t acknowledge it –

Sanjana: Talking about social conditioning is what The Gayly Prophet in their episode spoke about was that how when we are reading these texts, even though we uh uh are you know peo – persons of colour, we don’t uh – we

Parinita: [laughs] I like how uncomfortable you were with that term.

Aparna: [laughs]

Sanjana: Yeah I was –

Aparna: Now you don’t know what to call yourself!

Sanjana: I’m not sure what I am anymore. [laughs] You have shattered – either which way what I was saying was that how we assume that the character we’re reading is white.

Parinita: Yeah.

Aparna: Yeah.

Sanjana: How often does that happen to you guys? It happens quite often to me.

Aparna: Yeah totally. It happens very often and constantly. And most of the time, my imagination was right, because we were reading only white people – white men mostly. I just assumed for the longest time until like shamefully recently that all the characters I was reading were white.

Sanjana: Yeah.

Aparna: And all the characters that I identified with also in the books that I was reading and all just happened to be white only because they were the coolest – even if there were non-white characters in the book. Sorry I said non-white.

[Sanjana and Parinita laugh]

Aparna: But in that context it’s true okay because they were only white characters and a few – sprinkling of a non-white character here and there. But even if they were, they were either stereotypes like in Johnny Quest – Haji in Johnny Quest.

Sanjana: Oh my god Haji in Johnny Quest! [laughs]

Aparna: Or they were so surface level that beyond their name or one line here and there, they didn’t really have much of a role to play. So you ended up like identifying with the white characters and then that just became the normal. It took me a long time to say, oh the characters I identify with can actually be similar to me.

Parinita: You know the BuzzFeed article that we read by Alanna Bennett and about – basically about Hermione being black and a racebent Hermione, which again, I’ll link to in the transcript. But she said that she had to train herself out of seeing white as default for fictional characters, but for me it’s something that I really still struggle with. Like I almost –

Sanjana: Yeah.

Parinita: Need the author to explicitly say that this person, their racial markers. And I don’t know why. It’s like it’s a blind spot in my brain. You know like it’s such a colonised brain that I have that it’s still difficult. Because it’s like what nearly thirty years of conditioning because we’ve grown up –

Sanjana: Correct.

Parinita: With Western media. We still largely read Western media. And now I make it a point to diversify my reading so that I have more black and brown voices in it. But in that it’s so much easier for me to then imagine black and brown bodies. But in just other books, it’s still something that – it’s very difficult for me to unlearn. And it’s still something I actively need to be … so you know these conversations about them being convinced that Hermione was black, I would never have been able to think of that. For me, Hermione was always white because all the characters that I read about were white. So –

Sanjana: Yeah.

Aparna: Yeah.

Parinita: Even though I identified with her – bookworm, bushy hair, big teeth, big front teeth –

Aparna: [laughs]

Parinita: I was like yeah that’s as far as the identification goes. Because I’m in Ravenclaw, you’re in Gryffindor, our paths diverge.

Aparna: [laughs] So it’s like you said, you’re trying to read more diverse authors now. And that’s sort of slowly deconditioning you. Which is why I think the Own Voices movement is so important.

Parinita: Yeah.

Aparna: It’s because to start seeing yourself in books, you have to be correctly represented in books. And to be correctly represented in books, the books have to be written by somebody who’s lived similar experiences as you. Like there has to be space for all voices in the books that we’re reading or the media that we’re consuming. So that everyone can find a way to see themselves. Like this whole conversation should, in an ideal world, not exist because there’ll be so much space for everyone and every voice that every child will be able to identify with every other child or know about various experiences that are not their own through the books that they’re reading. Not just oh this is what British people eat on a picnic. Like everyone should know what everyone eats on a picnic, you know?

Parinita: Yeah and also ever since I came to the UK, I realised that the most popular British food happens to be chicken tikka masala [laughs].

[Aparna and Sanjana laugh]

Parinita: Which you know – that’s not something that you would know of in India. You think oh they eat crumpets and they eat you know baked goods and haggis. And like here everyone loves a good curry, as they call it. Which is something that disrupts our notion of British food.

Aparna: Yeah. So, I’m a picture book editor and I was reading this book about the history of picture books. It’s called Fierce Bad Rabbits. It’s by a lady called Clare Pollard. And she was talking about how there’s a picture book called The Snowy Day by Ezra Keats. And how it was one of the first books that became really popular that featured an African-American character. And it’s just about this little boy who is playing in the snow. And the book was really well-received and people were writing letters to the author saying, “For the first time, my students are picking up the brown crayon to represent themselves.”

Image of book cover. Text says: Fierce Bad Rabbits: The Tales Behind Children's Picture Books by Clare PollardImage of book cover. Text says: The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats

Parinita: Awww!

Aparna: Because we were all – even when we were young, when we would get a crayon box, we would have this flesh-coloured crayon and it would be this pink-colour crayon.

Parinita: Pink. Yeah in India as well!

Sanjana: The crayon’s name was flesh.

Parinita: Yeah. Or skin.

Sanjana: Yeah something like that.

Aparna: So it became really popular and many people assumed that the author was black. And when they found that he wasn’t, they were very disappointed. And then he received a lot of flak about why did he choose to show an African-American character and then started finding like these are very stereotypical representations etc. And he said no, that all children play in the snow, it’s such a universal experience etc. I think he chose it because it would stand out better against the snow or something like

Parinita: Oh.

Aparna: Something illustratory like that. I don’t know. I’m just going to read a bit from the book. “I’m glad if artists don’t always default to white children convinced by Keats when he says of Peter, ‘My book would have him there simply because he should have been there all along.’ But it’s worth noting that The Snowy Day raises an ongoing problem in picture books. Representation on the page is seen as enough for the black child or at least to tick the publisher’s diversity box. Yet there is still a staggering absence of Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic [BAME] writers and illustrators. Who gets to tell the stories is important. They get to shape our children’s way of seeing the world.”

Parinita: No, I think it’s a very good point. But it throws me into such a quandary. Because I’d watched this video on The Guardian and it was about inclusive children’s literature, in the British context. And it featured a Guardian journalist, a black Guardian journalist, Grace Shutti. And she read this book called Amazing Grace, which I think was written in the 70s or 80s. I don’t know, it’s a pretty old book. And it stars like a black family and Grace who is this “little black girl and loves stories and wants to do everything”. So she really identified with it. And then for the video itself, she managed to interview the author. And the author happened to be a white woman.

Image of book cover. Text says: Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman, illustrated by Caroline Binch

Aparna: Oh.

Parinita: And she knew that before she interviewed her.

Aparna: Okay. Haan.

Parinita: And she spoke a little bit about the tensions and things. But for her, it was one rare book in a landscape of white that she was reading.

Aparna: Yeah.

Parinita: So for her, that book holds a really important place.

Aparna: Yeah.

Parinita: And that’s what I struggle so much with. Because I completely believe Own Voices is so important and you should have as many diversity of voices and experiences writing about – because there’s no monolithic experience, right? There’s no monolithic Indian experience –

Aparna: Correct.

Parinita: Or a monolithic whatever class anything. So you need as many as possible. But then I feel like sometimes that non-own voices can also make a really important contribution. Like unfortunately, systemically in media, children’s publishing, everything, we’re not there yet. We’re working really hard to try and fix the imbalance of dominant voices and marginalised voices. But it’s going so slowly. And the other article that we read, which was “Writing Outside Your Identity” by Laura Simeon on Kirkus Reviews.

Aparna: Yeah.

Parinita: And she spoke about how non-own voices books and you know how the different kinds of representations within them.

Aparna: Yeah.

Parinita: And she spoke both about the problematic elements where you just resort to stereotypes and lazy generalisations and not really you know going deep into your research. Oh have you guys come across the recent backlash against this book called American Dirt?

Sanjana and Aparna: No.

Parinita: So it’s this American book I believe because yeah American Dirt. I suppose that makes sense [laughs]. But it was written by I believe a middle-class woman with part Latina heritage. And she’s written about South American immigrants. You know how the whole border situation that’s happening –

Aparna: Yeah.

Parinita: In the US. And so she wrote about South American immigrants and it created this huge backlash because they believed that she didn’t have the lived experience and she didn’t have the knowledge to be able to tell this story. And that there aren’t enough people who are telling their own stories. So I found that really interesting because in that sense, there’s the power dynamic as well, right?

Aparna: Yeah.

Parinita: She’s American, like she may have Latina heritage but her Latina experiences in the US are very different from someone who’s fleeing crime or you know whatever from their country.

Sanjana: Yeah. And it can do more harm than it can do good sometimes. Like if you don’t do a well-researched story. What happened to research though? Like it’s not that hard to – at least a little bit.

Parinita: So in that article, she mentioned two YA [Young Adult] books that do a good job. Like non-own voice writers who write about another culture and they do it in a way that a cultural insider would recognise it. Would be able to identify with the characters and stuff.

Sanjana: Hmm.

Parinita: So it is possible. But it’s not easy.

Sanjana: It is possible, yeah, yeah.

Parinita: It’s – you have to do a lot of research. You have to know the current and historical discussions, debates, controversies. You need to have a clear picture. Especially when you’re writing about a culture that’s not your own and where you are not impacted, where you are the dominant person and the other person – you know like there’s so many – you have to be careful about it. You have to be respectful.

Aparna: Exactly. Respectful of all of that. And the most important thing is probably an authentic representation.

Parinita: Yeah.

Aparna: If you’re writing outside of your identity, you owe it to your readers to authentically represent them. Because the job of creating media is one of privilege. The creative fields are one of privilege.

Parinita: Absolutely.

Aparna: So it’s already somebody who does it will be from a certain privilege and has been for the longest time so to break away from that, like you said, will take – it’s taking time. There the most important thing is to have people who are like the commissioning editors or people who are showrunners to be diverse or to be at least invested in making sure their shows and books are more inclusive. But more than that, it’s just something that is going to take some time to break away from. But meanwhile whatever representations are being included should be done more mindfully.

Parinita: And there shouldn’t be like you’re scared of representing a culture that’s not your own so you’re not going to do it anyway. Like in that Reddit thread, which was –

Sanjana: Yeah.

Parinita: Essentially about people of colour in fandom and in fanfiction, there were some responses like, oh if you have a problem with it, why don’t you write your own? Like it’s always the burden of you know the person.

Aparna: Yeah.

Parinita: Like it only matters to the person who inhabits a marginalised identity. And it’s not like diversity isn’t important for everybody. Or they would say that, oh they were super sensitive and over-cautious about offending marginalised people through their representations. Which again, it can be solved by research. Social media, the internet, makes it really easy – I mean doesn’t make it really easy, you have to do the work.

Sanjana: Yeah.

Parinita: But you have access to resources and conversations that you –

Sanjana: Absolutely.

Parinita: Wouldn’t have had earlier.

Aparna: Yeah.

Parinita: Or there are these colourblind statements like, oh we’re focusing on the character and we want to entertain. Like another of this Reddit comment was, I want to entertain and not educate, which is why I’m not adding –

Sanjana: Yeah!

Aparna: Yeah! That’s such rubbish!

Parinita: Right?! As if just having diverse people in a book makes it educational. Like last time I said, just the presence of diversity isn’t political. It’s another thing that I find – I think it’s important to have serious issues, you know, issues based on your marginalised identity like stories that delve into that. But that shouldn’t be the only kind of diversity that we see. Like it should be just diversity in terms of just going on adventures or having fun or just you know light-hearted sort of things.

Sanjana: Yeah without –

Aparna: Yeah exactly.

Sanjana: Comment. That diversity without comment on diversity is what is needed.

Aparna: Exactly. Yeah. I actually have a follow-up question. So as more diverse books are being published, there are lists of diverse books, there is a focus on diversity as a topic. But what do you guys think of that? Because I’m always torn between whether that’s a good thing or is it already treating it as separate?

Sanjana: Different, yeah.

Aparna: From the mainstream.

Parinita: Well, I think that we should be moving towards where it’s not separate. Like we should be moving towards a sort of environment where we don’t need to isolate this. But you know I totally understand these lists because school librarians, school teachers, parents may be really well-meaning but they may not have access to the resources or the knowledge or whatever. So you know putting these things together, and to highlight these voices and to highlight these books and to hopefully encourage other people to pick them up and buy them and you know read them.

Aparna: Right.

Parinita: I think that’s an important step that needs to be taken. Because it is something that ideally it should be without comment, but it’s a political thing as well right? Like unfortunately, diversity currently is political. Or fortunately, I don’t know. It’s a good opportunity as well.

Sanjana: Yeah.

Parinita: And just like the woman of colour thing that you know it was formed as a political designation, maybe just diversity now should be used as a political tool to promote inclusivity and empathy and respect for different experiences.

Aparna: Yeah.

Sanjana: Yeah. Which brings us to …

Parinita: [laughs]

Sanjana: Our next section!

Aparna: [laughs]

Sanjana: I’ve been waiting for this section! Our specially curated section on What If?

Aparna: [laughs]

Sanjana: So anyway what I wanted to ask you guys very importantly because when I was writing stuff down, this just sort of pounced at me like the Houses in Hogwarts and the Sorting. What if it was at a different level? How would the world have been if the segregation started at a school level, like at that moment when you are put into Gryffindor or Hufflepuff or wherever – that defined the rest of your life. Like in a sense, what jobs were okay for you to take, and what jobs were beneath you or –

Parinita: Are you talking about the Hindu caste system?

Aparna: [laughs]

Sanjana: YES!

Parinita: Because that’s what it sounds like [laughs] Like oh I’m a brave Gryffindor, maybe I can go fight battles.

Aparna: Yes! Yes!

Sanjana: Isn’t it? Isn’t it? Thank you. I was just – I was phrasing my sentences so you would get at that.

Parinita: [laughs] But like –

Sanjana: All the Ravenclaws would be the ones writing all the texts that –

Aparna: Oh god!

Parinita: Yeah like they would be the Brahmins.

Aparna: This conversation – this what if is …

Sanjana: Haan? Yeah? Isn’t it?

Parinita: Brahmins. Because they have access to knowledge that they don’t – they refuse to share with other people –

Sanjana: Yeah!

Parinita: And hold onto.

Sanjana: They’ll be the ones writing the history.

Aparna: Ugh.

Parinita: Oh yeah, yeah.

Sanjana: We didn’t compare the Slytherins and Hufflepuffs. I don’t want to go there also.

Parinita: But Slytherins is – maybe they’re the Brahmins because like the white supremacy house.

Sanjana: I think they’re like the supremacy – yeah exactly.

Aparna: That’s true.

Parinita: Yeah I don’t know. Hufflepuff I feel would be the best house. Because Gryffindor only wants the brave people. Like if you’re chicken, please, get out. Ravenclaw only wants the smart people. Slytherin only wants the pure-blood people. And Hufflepuff just accepts everybody. Like Hufflepuff is great, you don’t – you need to be kind, okay. That’s all – that’s all you need. That’s great. That’s a great House.

Sanjana: Yeah. But what a strange horrible world that would be.

Aparna: [laughs] Yeah.

Sanjana: I have a follow up to the What If.

Parinita: Okay.

Sanjana: What if it was all integrated? Like you got Sorted out, but then you didn’t sit on separate tables.

Aparna: Yeah.

Sanjana: You went on Quidditch matches against other schools, not your own school, like one team. You also had one team.

Aparna: Oh!

Sanjana: That would be fun!

Aparna: I suppose, I suppose.

Parinita: So there’s that fan text Tumblr post that I’d sent you guys earlier this week which I’ll link to in the transcript. Which was – it had very tragic beginnings. Because it was –

Sanjana: Yeah.

Parinita: After the war. After the Hogwarts battle where lots of people were dead so there were gaps in the House tables. And soon just as a form of healing and getting over your trauma, the professors encouraged intermingling of the Houses. So there weren’t four separate tables for the four houses. And again like how messed up is that?

The Tumblr fan text

Aparna and Sanjana: Yeah!

Parinita: That in the series like they do literally everything only with their Houses.

Aparna and Sanjana: Yeah!

Parinita: Which, again, has so many race, class, caste implications, right? Like imagine if you’re only hanging out with your own caste or your own class or your own race.

Aparna: Like it would be rebellious to befriend people from other Houses at the rate at which we are keeping people away from each other.

Sanjana: Because the Common Room is – the Common Room of like girls and boys. They should be like a larger Common Room for everybody.

Parinita: Right?!

Sanjana: Like a common Common Room.

Parinita: And like you can’t make friends with people who aren’t brave? Like that’s such a sort of superficial characteristic. Like brave and loyal. So what Slytherins can’t be brave and loyal?

Aparna: Also it’s not practical. The brave people need – people who are not so brave need brave people to hang around with. [laughs]

Parinita: Absolutely! And brave people, I’m sorry, but are not always the most clear-headed and you know –

Sanjana: Yeah.

Parinita: They’re not always thinking about their actions. So like maybe you need a little bit of Ravenclaw to be like excuse me please, can we – can we analyse little bit and see what is going to happen? Instead of just charging into the situation. So again Harry Potter and the Sacred Text, I keep calling on them even though we’ve not listened to them yet. But they had another interesting thing was so they were thinking of it in terms of American university semesters. And they said that all the students in Hogwarts, because there don’t seem to be that many of them, it’s a very small class size. So every semester, they should all be in a different House. And embody the qualities of that House and learn about the House’s history and their attitudes and talk to each other and you know talk to people whose families have a history of that House and just as a form of cultural intermingling in a very respectful way and in like a very curious way where you’re not judging but you’re just happy to learn and happy to be a part of it. That’s what I would want. That’s what my What If would be.

[Outro music]

You’ve been listening to Part One of our two-part episode on race and representation. Tune in again for Part Two where we have a lot more thoughts about whitewashing, racebending, diverse canons, diverse fandoms, Harry Potter, and Doctor Who! As always, thank you so much Sana and Paru for putting in so much work for my weird little PhD project. I can’t imagine doing this with anyone else! And thanks again to my editor, Jack, for taking care of the technical bits.

You can now listen to Marginally Fannish on Spotify, Apple, Google, or SoundCloud. I’d love to hear from you and talk to you – so any feedback, comments or critiques are very welcome! Get in touch with me on social media, leave a comment on my blog, or email me at edps@leeds.ac.uk. If you’d like to follow the podcast or the PhD project, visit my website marginallyfannish.org where you’ll find both the podcast episodes and the blog. You can also receive updates on Facebook or Instagram at Marginally Fannish or on Twitter where I’m @MarginalFannish. If you enjoyed the podcast, please share it with anyone you think will enjoy it too.

Thanks for listening! Tune in again next time for all things fannish and intersectional!

Recruiting Participants As Podcast Guests

Due to a series of unanticipated events, I only officially started recruiting participants on the 23rd of December by sharing posts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter – something I had planned on beginning a month and a half earlier. This was terrible timing both for the UK (holiday season) and India (mass protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act and the National Register of Citizens – something which was also keeping me heavily distracted). Consequently, I was fully prepared that I wouldn’t get enough volunteers the first time around, and I planned to do another round of recruitment mid-January.

Apart from the three social media platforms I used, I also emailed four people I thought may be interested in participating based on previous conversations; of these, three agreed. Everyone else got in touch with me after encountering my posts. My Facebook post largely reached my personal network (which, to be fair, is relatively diverse), of which a few people volunteered. I’m unsure what impact my Instagram post had and I wish I had shared it to my Stories instead of as a post; at least with Stories, I can track how many people viewed it. Twitter was by far the most successful in reaching out beyond the people I knew. My post was shared by 100 people (including some highly targeted fan accounts and fan studies accounts), had 45,905 impressions and 1,216 engagements. Additionally, my boyfriend’s post was shared by someone with a high follower count on Twitter as well (though I can’t gauge the reach of that). For me, Twitter was the best way to increase the social and geographical diversity of my co-participants.

While I had initially planned to recruit ten participants as guests (apart from my two co-hosts), according to my spreadsheet, I currently have twenty-four confirmed participants. I’m currently overwhelmed both by the enthusiasm of my co-participants (in a very good way) but also by the sheer amount of work and data I’m going to accumulate (in a less good way). I’m still excited about the podcast but also aware that I have the tendency to over-commit to things and make things unnecessarily unwieldy. I am also utterly unable to say no to things. My project was already over-ambitious enough as it was when I was planning to record 20 episodes. It’s laughable now that it’ll be about 34! I’m defending this inability to say no to volunteers because 1) People may still drop out; and 2) I am blown away by the enthusiasm and would love to learn from the diversity of perspectives and multiplicity of experiences. I’m sure my future self will curse my past self’s naivety. I’m already laughing at the plans I had made a month and a half ago.

Some of my suggested intersectional themes turned out to be more popular than others, and most co-participants were interested in exploring more than one theme (though my email about potential themes, format, and schedule may have directed their attention that way). My favourite thing was that some people also suggested their own ideas – ideas I hadn’t thought of. While I was initially trying to crowbar all their suggestions into my original ten-theme framework (I’m still doing this to an extent), I quickly realised that I actually like the open-endedness and disruption to my initial plans. While I thought I had kept the format and themes as flexible as possible, my conversations with some participants made me aware that some of my boundaries were firmer than I had intended. I still think the ten intersectional themes are useful, especially for episodes with my co-hosts, but I’m now less beholden to the structure they provide.

Relatedly, my initial plan of dedicating a month to a specific theme quickly fell by the wayside, for three main reasons:

1) Planning episode schedules with different participants

2) The time I needed to listen to fan podcasts in order to shortlist relevant episodes

3) Participants largely outlined a diverse array of themes, some of which coincided with other people’s, which makes the idea of monthly themes a bit unfeasible

Subsequently, while I’ve only been properly at this for a month and a half, my plans have already changed. I’m now launching the podcast in February rather than January. I’m going to have a weekly(ish) podcast rather than a fortnightly one. And I may have to recruit some more participants mid-way through the year based on whether any participants drop out or which themes remain under-explored. Some of the participants who reached out to me explicitly outlined their diverse identities (in tune with the intersectional theme of the project). However, I wanted to make sure I offered everyone a chance to suggest the themes they were most interested in – which may differ from the identities they inhabit – because I realise it can be frustrating always having to only talk about the marginalised aspects of your identity rather than any other things you may be interested in. This may leave some themes unexamined, something I’ll have to re-evaluate come June.

Gif of Chandler Bing from FRIENDS. Text says: That's too much information!

I’m going to be drowning in data and I definitely haven’t made my life any easier. But then again, when do I ever?

How I Shortlisted My Intersectional Themes

While researching scholarship about intersectionality, I found that most papers explored the intersections of race, gender, and class (and sometimes included sexual orientation). However, at the back of my head, I kept having the feeling that there was something missing; that intersectionality had the potential to explore so many more aspects of identity that weren’t being addressed in the academic literature.

In the meanwhile, I was also reading books, anthologies, and memoirs I had borrowed from the public library which explored the diverse aspects of feminism, marginalisation, systemic oppression, and activism. The books included:

  1. Can We All Be Feminists? edited by June Eric-Udorie
  2. Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge
  3. Men Explain Things to Me: And Other Essays by Rebecca Solnit
  4. The Audre Lorde Compendium: Essays, Speeches, And Journals by Audre Lorde
  5. Women, Race, and Class by Angela Y. Davis
  6. Happy Fat: Taking Up Space in a World That Wants to Shrink You by Sofie Hagen
  7. When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir by by Patrisse Khan-Cullors, Asha Bandele
  8. Fight Like A Girl by Clementine Ford
  9. Rage Becomes Her: The Power of Women’s Anger by Soraya Chemaly
  10. The Mother of All Questions (Essays) by Rebecca Solnit
  11. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  12. The Muslims are Coming!: Islamophobia, Extremism, and the Domestic War on Terror by Arun Kundnani
  13. Queer, There and Everywhere: 23 People Who Changed the World by Sarah Prager
  14. Queer: A Graphic History by Meg-John Barker, Julia Scheele
  15. The Intersectional Internet: Race, Sex, Class, and Culture Online edited by Safiya Umoja Noble and Brendesha Tynes

These books began expanding my thinking about the possibilities of the intersectional framework and how it could be applied not only in my own project but to all areas of life. In fact, the year of researching intersectionality in different ways was the year I was angriest about the world and the silences on the many injustices which were occurring around me. According to my boyfriend, who had to listen to my impassioned speeches and rage-filled take-downs of nearly everything I encountered, this was completely normal. He had watched a video featuring feminist Anita Sarkeesian where she spoke about how when she first began learning about feminist theory and history, she couldn’t help but rage about everything being sexist and everything being racist. It was only a few months later, when she began reading more perspectives and talking to more people, was she able to have a more nuanced and complex understanding of the issues plaguing the world. Much like her, I’m still angry about the world (how can you not be?!), but less likely to be angry at everything.

Apart from my anger-inducing reading list, it was an online course I did on Future Learn at the beginning of my PhD which inadvertently ended up influencing my thinking about intersectionality (a fact I only realised when I was preparing for my transfer interview in October 2019 i.e. an upgrade to official PhD researcher status, and found my notes from a year ago). The course is called Understanding Diversity and Inclusion and while I enjoyed everything I learned, my biggest takeaway from it was this Diversity Wheel.

An image of two circles nestled inside each other. The inner circle is divided into the following segments: Race/Ethnicity, Age, Gender Identity or Expression, Gender, National Origin, Sexual Orientation, and Mental/Physical Ability. The outer circle is divided into the following segments: Education, Political Belief, Family, Organizational Role, Language and Communication Skills, Income, Religion, Appearance, and Work Experience.

In the end, it was my non-academic reading and the Diversity Wheel which made me better attuned to the silences in academic discussions of intersectionality. The different voices and priorities I discovered helped me fine-tune my own voice and priorities in terms of the intersectional themes I wanted to explore. The current list is:

gender; race; class; sexual orientation; ethnicity; gender expression and gender identity; mental/physical (dis)ability; national/regional origin; religion; and age.

I’m trying my best to be as inclusive of the mulitiplicity of diverse experiences as possible, given the constraints of my project. However, I’m open to expanding or editing this list and I would love to hear your opinions of intersectionality and/or these themes in the comments.

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